The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, July 16, 2004


Art Milliken awarded Conservationist of the Year

Ed. note: This is the speech that Conservation Commissioner John Lee gave at Old Home Day when presenting the Conservationist of the Year award.

While Art Milliken, this year's awardee to the Conservationist of the Year, was simple to select from a group of outstanding candidates, pigeon-holing him has been nothing short of challenging. Many of his friends were just short of tongue-tied when asked for a list of his accomplishments; "Where do I begin?" they all asked. "Oh my God," said a few others; "I'll get back to you next week." I have known this fellow for many years and I did not know where to begin. He has had his hands on so many projects that have done and will do so much good for our town that it is tedious to enumerate. Perhaps what is most outstanding about this year's award is perhaps less about the work he has done than about who he is in and of himself. It is simply his selfless dedication to the breadth of his community interests that distinguishes him.

He has played a critical role in conserving Carlisle's rural character his is the gentle hand that is so persuasive in difficult negotiations, in bringing reluctant partners to the table and bringing the arrangements to a salubrious conclusion.

He is a person who says, "We have an opportunity here; who will help make it a reality?" He is not a man of idle talk but the man who brings commitment and an infectious excitement to any group he works with. Yet he is always the one who hides his light under the bushel, giving credit to others and deflecting accolades from himself.

He is a man of consistent, persistent energy. He will see a project through from concept to conclusion. He digs in when the work isn't sexy, to achieve the objectives sought. He is continually updating his skills so that he can bring the best information to bear. He is thorough, gets his facts straight and works hard to achieve consensus. He works to evaluate alternatives, solicit feedback and support process.

This gentleman has been ahead of the curve in Carlisle and at the state level for years. To give you some idea of the breadth of his interests, you might think that he thrives on the concept of achieving "community" in our town. From his earliest days in Carlisle, he has been a spokesman for quality housing for seniors, affordable housing, use and misuse of the environment, transportation, sensible planning strategies and the like. To borrow a phrase from Bob Lemire, our awardee has articulated the need to "save what needs to be saved and build what needs to be built." To do this he has built alliances and focus groups throughout Carlisle and incited them to do what is in their own best interests.

Now, we all know that good ideas cost money usually, but not always, taxpayer dollars. As Vivian Chaput once coyly remarked, "No matter what you're talking about, you're talking about money." Here again this year's Conservationist of the Year has tirelessly worked to ease the pain on the taxpayer, while working closely with private landowners to do the right things. He raised nearly $90,000 to assist the state in its bargain-sale purchase of eight acres for the State Park, thereby permanently preserving the rural look and feel of the cornfields and views for the trail around the canoe pond; he convinced both long-time funding sources and newcomers to provide $250,000 in guarantees needed to permit the Carlisle Conservation Foundation (CCF) to take on the purchase of the Wang-Coombs land which ultimately preserved 34 acres of open fields (i.e. stunning rural vistas) and permitted the Planning Board to obtain 78 acres in additional land donations through the Hart Farm subdivision. He has been the good shepherd of the sheep projects which have graced our fields for the last several years now. And, in many people's opinions, only he could have mustered the spine and charm, wit and energy to inveigle 14 Carlisle families to commit over two million dollars in 5% non-recourse loans to allow CCF to go ahead with the Benfield Parcel A project.

But wait there's more. We have not commented on his keen political sense, his ability to build coalitions, to drive ideas through the minds of Town Meeting voters. With wit and charm, our candidate might fairly be referred to as the Pater Noster of the Community Preservation Act as we know it in Carlisle. He was a key organizer of the Pathways project and the Historic Zoning by-law. One could never finish the list of this man's contributions.

Through all these years and all these efforts, Art Milliken has helped preserve more than 600 acres of land in Carlisle, many of which are valuable not simply for their open space, but for the sense of peace and tranquility that any of us who drive by these lands can not help but know. What he has done for us is what so many of us wish we could do in our homes and workplaces: Art has not only given us the Biblical 'loaf', he has also helped us to develop the tools we will need to move forward as we seek to build and improve this town that we all love so much. We are truly indebted to his leadership and proud to make him this year's Conservationist of the Year.

And I would be pleased if we might also honor his wife Lee, who has been his helpmeet, partner and, I am sure, spur and inspiration for so many years and so many projects.

2004 The Carlisle Mosquito